Chelsea survive late scare to reach sixth semi in nine seasons
Chelsea win 3-1 on aggregate
CHELSEA manager Roberto di Matteo last night warned that his players are out for revenge after setting up a mouth-watering Champions League semi-final tie against holders Barcelona.
An injury-time piledriver from substitute Raul Meireles secured their place after an 86th minute goal from 10-man Benfica had forced the caretaker Blues boss to endure a nail-biting end to their quarter-final second leg.
Three years ago Chelsea faced Barcelona in the last four, and were left heartbroken when another late goal, scored by Andres Iniesta, knocked them out. A series of controversial refereeing decisions that night infuriated and still haunt many of the players.
“We’ve faced them a lot of times over the years and a lot of our players have some history against Barcelona,” said Di Matteo. “Certainly they feel a bit hard done by for the last time we played against them.”
Four of this team’s starting XI also started the 1-1 draw with Barcelona in May 2009, which saw Chelsea dumped out on away goals. One of them, captain John Terry, was withdrawn last night with a suspected injury.
“He got a knock on his rib and that’s why we had to take him off,” added Di Matteo, whose staff will assess Terry today ahead of a hectic end-of-season run-in. “We hope that he’s going to be ok.”
Terry disappeared down the tunnel on the hour and would have been unimpressed by his fellow defenders’ subsequent displays, as Benfica defender Javi Garcia was left entirely unmarked to head home a corner from close range.
Just one more goal would have denied Chelsea a sixth semi-final in nine seasons, and Benfica stormed forward despite playing most of the match with a numerical disadvantage – but boss Jorge Jesus was ultimately left frustrated.
“We were the best team in both legs,” said Jesus. “Even with 10 men we made Chelsea look ordinary. We were penalised by the referee unjustly, I feel.”
Damir Skomina – the official who last month provoked the ire of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger – flourished eight yellow cards, and one of his early bookings went to Garcia when he blocked full-back Ashley Cole in the penalty area.
Stalwart Frank Lampard – a veteran of several Barca clashes in recent years – drilled the penalty into the bottom left corner of the net, putting Chelsea two goals up on aggregate after 21 minutes.
Just before the break Benfica’s evening went from bad to worse when skipper Maxi Pereira was shown a second yellow for leaving his foot in on midfielder Jon Obi Mikel. Yet the visitors put in a valiant second-half display, registering 14 attempts at the home side’s goal after the interval.
Chelsea were often pinned back and resorted to attacking on the break, with forward Salomon Kalou and midfielder Ramires, who somehow squandered a close-range chance, culpable of missing several opportunities to kill the tie.
Garcia’s equalising header startled Stamford Bridge as Benfica pushed for a winner. Yet they were finally caught on the break when Meireles capped a burst through the middle by slamming the ball high past goalkeeper Artur.
CHELSEA V BARCELONA
Champions League history
Barca 0-0 Chelsea
Chelsea 1-1 Barca
2006-07, group stage
Chelsea 1-0 Barca
Barca 2-2 Chelsea
2005-06, last 16
Chelsea 1-2 Barca
Barca 1-1 Chelsea
2004-05, last 16
Barca 2-1 Chelsea
Chelsea 4-2 Barca
Chelsea 3-1 Barca
Barca 5-1 Chelsea